75 Years Ago, Norman Rockwell’s ‘Four Freedoms’ Inspired a Generation

Norman Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" (1943)

Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” (1943)

In February 1943, artist Norman Rockwell completed one of the most complex projects of his entire career. In his desire to help America’s war effort during World War II, Rockwell decided to illustrate four “Freedoms” outlined by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his January 1941 address to the nation.

President Roosevelt hoped that any postwar world would be based on those “essential” freedoms. Rockwell hoped that his paintings of the “Four Freedoms” might help raise some money for the war effort.

Little did Rockwell know that, before the end of World War II, the U.S. Government would print millions of copies of his paintings and his “Four Freedoms” would help sell $132,999,537 worth of war bonds.

But the project almost never happened.


Freedom of Speech Norman Rockwell Park West Gallery, The Four Freedoms

“Freedom Of Speech”
(1943), Norman Rockwell. From “The Four Freedoms”


President Roosevelt first mentioned his “four freedoms” during his State of the Union speech on January 6, 1941—11 months before the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

Here’s how he described them:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression… The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way… The third is freedom from want… The fourth is freedom from fear


Freedom of Worship Norman Rockwell Park West Gallery, The Four Freedoms

“Freedom of Worship” (1943), Norman Rockwell. From “The Four Freedoms.”


One year later, the U.S. was deeply involved in the war and Norman Rockwell—already well-known for his iconic covers for The Saturday Evening Post—was trying to support the war effort however he could. In the spring of 1942, while he was creating promotional posters for the U.S. Army, Rockwell came up with the idea of illustrating Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms.”

There were just two big problems.

First, it was an impossibly ambitious project. How do you illustrate abstract concepts like The Freedom of Speech or Want? The scope wasn’t lost on Rockwell.

“It was so darned high-blown,” he said. “Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it.”

The second problem was that no one would pay him to do it.

Rockwell first pitched his idea of painting the “Four Freedoms” to the Graphic Division of the War Department’s Office of Facts and Figures in May 1942. They were interested, but wouldn’t commit to the idea. So Rockwell created elaborate charcoal sketches of his concepts and traveled to Washington D.C. to propose the series to the Office of War Information. They too turned him down.

Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want Park West Gallery, The Four Freedoms

“Freedom From Want” (1943), Norman Rockwell.
From “The Four Freedoms.”

On his way back home, Rockwell met with Ben Hibbs, his new editor at the Saturday Evening Post. Hibbs embraced the concept of the Four Freedoms and committed to running them in the magazine. He gave Rockwell two months to complete them.

It took Rockwell seven months.

The tenacious project took its toll on the artist, who lost 10 pounds over the course of those seven months.

Afterward, he famously said, “The job was too big for me … It should have been tackled by Michelangelo.”

The Saturday Evening Post began publishing Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” in February 1943. They ran one painting a week, starting with “Freedom of Speech” on February 20. Each painting was accompanied by an essay extolling the virtues of that particular freedom.


Freedom from Fear Norman Rockwell Park West Gallery, The Four Freedoms

“Freedom from Fear” (1943), Norman Rockwell. From “The Four Freedoms.”


The Saturday Evening Post was not prepared for the reaction to Rockwell’s paintings. They immediately received over 25,000 requests for reprints of the art.

Two months later, U.S. Department of the Treasury partnered with the Post to use the “Four Freedoms” to sell war bonds and stamps. They printed over 4 million posters of the “Four Freedoms” and sponsored a national tour where over 1 million people came to see Rockwell’s original paintings in person.

In the end, Rockwell’s ambitious project raised more than $130 million to support the Allied troops and resulted in some of the most iconic images of his long and storied career.

Their impact is still being felt today. In 2018, 75 years later, Rockwell’s adopted hometown of Arlington, Vermont announced that they’re holding their first-ever “Four Freedoms Festival,” a celebration of Rockwell’s famous series, “their connection to the area, and the ideas and philosophies behind them.”


For collectors interested in the art of Norman Rockwell, view our online collection or speak to our gallery consultants.


"The Peace Corps" (1966), Norman Rockwell

“The Peace Corps” (1966), Norman Rockwell



2 Responses to 75 Years Ago, Norman Rockwell’s ‘Four Freedoms’ Inspired a Generation

  1. Dan Fichtner says:

    Rockwell “rocked.”

  2. Maureen says:

    Rock on. I LOVE Norman Rockwell!!

Leave a comment

Prove you\'re human. *

Latest News

  • Park West Donation Benefits Delaware Military Personnel

    The freedom of speech and expression are critical components to art, which are just a few of the reasons Park West Gallery is proud to support those who fight to ...
    Read More
  • Pat McManus: Painting the Softer Side of Nature

    Artist Pat McManus jokes that he paints wildlife instead of people for one reason: They’re not picky.“I’ve tried painting people—you have to be very accurate with people,” McManus says ...
    Read More
  • How Wyland Became One of the World’s Biggest Marine Wildlife Artists

    As an artist, Wyland is used to working on big canvases.He first rose to fame in the 1980s painting life-size murals of whales—that’s right, life-size whales—on the sides of ...
    Read More
  • Park West’s Latest Artist Videos Attract More Than 3 Million Views, Win 3...

    There is nothing quite like watching a master artist at work and,. as it turns out, our collectors—and the filmmaking industry—agree.In 2017, Park West Gallery launched a new series of ...
    Read More
  • Matt Beyrer, Peter Max, Picasso, and More Shine in Park West’s 2018 Summer...

    Now that summer’s almost here, couldn’t you use a little more color in your life? Brighten things up with a new work of art from Park West’s 2018 Summer ...
    Read More
  • Behind the Artist: Anatoly Metlan

    Artist Anatoly Metlan is inspired by the world, so in turn, he inspires the world with art that celebrates its beauty and cultures.Born in 1964 in Yalta, a Ukrainian ...
    Read More
  • Why Animation Art is One of the Most Important Art Forms of the...

    Animation art is beloved around the world, but, if we’re being honest, it’s also underappreciated.How is that possible? How can it be adored and taken for granted at the same ...
    Read More
  • Norwegian Cruise Line’s Newest Ship Sets Sail with Unforgettable Wyland Art

    The launch of a new cruise ship is always a big deal, but the debut of Norwegian Bliss is shaping up to be an event no one will ever forget.Norwegian ...
    Read More
  • 11 Pino Artworks That Will Make You Want to Hug Your Mother

    There’s something indescribable about moms. They exude a calm comfort, this sense of maternal caring and nurturing. Even those of us with moms who are more inclined to chase us ...
    Read More
  • May 11 Is a Surprisingly Significant Day in Art History—Here’s Why

     If you Google “what happened in history on May 11,” you’ll find a lot of interesting tidbits.May 11 is the day that Alexander became Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Christopher ...
    Read More
  • Park West CEO Albert Scaglione on the Art Market’s Obsession with Picasso

    More than 40 years after his death, Pablo Picasso continues to make headlines, and it seems like the public’s fascination with the Spanish artist is only growing.Picasso is currently the ...
    Read More
  • Shedding Light on 4 Works of Art by Thomas Kinkade

    Thomas Kinkade was one of the most collected living contemporary artists until his passing, and for good reason—he sought to enrich the lives of others with beautiful imagery that ...
    Read More